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Abu Dhabi Art will bring together a record number of galleries, artists, collectors and art enthusiasts. The show will offer diverse perspectives reflected through the galleries, artist commissions and exhibitions, says Dyala Nusseibeh, Director, Abu Dhabi Art, in an exclusive interview with Arabian Knight’s Sree Bhat
A diverse range of galleries and art works from across the globe will line the halls of Abu Dhabi Art, which will host the show’s largest edition this November.
The 14th edition of Abu Dhabi Art, taking place from November 16 to 20 at Manarat Al Saadiyat, will feature a record-breaking 80 galleries from about 25 countries and highlight artists from North Africa, Türkiye and the wider region.
The Abu Dhabi Art fair has established itself as an influential annual platform for the burgeoning MENASA art scene, connecting galleries and artists from various geographical territories with collectors, art enthusiasts, and visitors from the region and beyond. The annual November art fair is the culmination of Abu Dhabi Art’s year-round visual arts programme.
Following last year’s highly successful fair, a record 45 galleries are returning for this year’s event, while also attracting the participation of a good number of new galleries, demonstrating the international art world’s confidence in the region post-Covid. Hailing from countries spanning the globe – including Italy, Colombia, South Korea, Denmark and India – the array of local, regional, and international galleries will allow visitors to explore a wide selection of artworks from both established and emerging artists.
The returning galleries this November are really a reflection of the symbiotic relationship the fair has with its community and, in particular, the collectors that sustain it, says Dyala Nusseibeh, Director, Abu Dhabi Art, in an exclusive interview with Arabian Knight.
“I think the quality of art on offer will delight our visitors as everyone has come with ambitious presentations,” says Nusseibeh.
Excerpts from the interview:
Abu Dhabi Art 2022 is expected to be the largest edition to date. What were some of the key factors that helped achieve this?
Yes, it is our largest edition to date – we are welcoming 80 galleries to the fair this year from over 25 different countries, including 33 new galleries. One of the key factors that contributed to this growth in exhibitor numbers is that we have partnered with some fantastic guest contributors. For example, this year we are working with three new gallery curators, each responsible for bringing in a number of new participants, which includes a focus on galleries from the Maghreb and from Türkiye.
Being hosted just after Covid-19, how challenging was it to achieve the numbers and quality?
A number of factors convinced both local and international galleries that the market, or rather the community of collectors in the UAE, was committed to art, which made this journey quite smooth.
One example of this relates to online acquisitions during Covid where galleries around the world survived through the collectors in each place that stepped in and bought works from virtual platforms. As an art fair, we supported all our galleries by offering a free virtual platform ourselves, in place of a fair. Our local collectors were incredible in coming online and continuing to buy art through this new digital platform, securing some really great sales for galleries in a difficult time. When we reopened as a physical fair last year, our sales figures also leapt up, in part because people had spent more time at home thinking about how to change their home environment, to enhance it, with more disposable income to spend on art after nearly two years without travelling or spending on luxury lifestyles during lockdown. I think this definitely boosted sales last year as well.
In response to the support that they were shown in these more challenging years, the returning galleries this November are really a reflection of the symbiotic relationship the fair has with its community and, in particular, the collectors that sustain it.
At the same time, I am sure many newcomers are hoping that the global jump in oil prices has meant more disposable income to spend on art in the UAE this year whilst the recent updates about the opening of the new museum projects in Abu Dhabi have re-energised the art world too.
I can’t say it was challenging to achieve this jump in the number of galleries in part for these reasons. I think the quality of art on offer will delight our visitors as everyone has come with ambitious presentations.
What is the main focus/theme of this year’s Abu Dhabi Art Fair? And what are the essential elements?
We don’t have a single focus or theme, rather diverse perspectives reflected throughout the fair from the galleries through to the artist commissions and exhibitions. For example, one exhibition reflects on the metaverse, whilst another reflects on artist books created by 57 artists during lockdown. We are also excited about commissions by artists including Conrad Shawcross, Shilpa Gupta and Abdullah Al Saadi in Al Ain and by Marinella in Abu Dhabi along with a wonderful exhibition for our three commissioned artists for Beyond: Emerging Artists; Sarah Al Meheiri, Mohamed Khalid and Majd Alloush.
As the Director of the fair, what are some of the key ideas/factors that have gone into making this fair what it is today?
Abu Dhabi Art was initially created over 13 years ago to enable a journey of outreach in the UAE, to future communities for the new museums that were in the offering such as Guggenheim Abu Dhabi and Louvre Abu Dhabi, whilst engaging the international art community with the UAE. Today, Abu Dhabi Art occupies a fairly unique position in that there are few fairs globally that are funded by the government (we are organised by the Department of Culture and Tourism – Abu Dhabi, which is also operationally behind the major museum projects, music festivals, management of historic sites and intangible heritage) and that gives us a wider mandate than most fairs – in terms of our education programmes, community projects, exhibitions that stay on after the fair, commissions in historic sites etc.
I would say one of our unique qualities is that we are here to serve the community, as part of a department that is geared toward enabling the creative and cultural industries in the UAE to thrive.
Who are the curators this time and how will they contribute to Abu Dhabi Art’s overall theme/s?
Our guest curator for this year is Dr Omar Kholeif, a leading curator in the region who has conceived My Life in the Metaverse which tells the story of a mythical character, Dr O, subsumed in the metaverse. I want to enable further discussion around the rise of NFTs and developments in digital art, not just from a market perspective but also from an art-historical one, which Dr Kholeif is uniquely positioned to do, as an expert in this field. I think the exhibition is the first of its kind in the region.
We also have an exhibition entitled Cities Under Quarantine; The Mailbox Project taking place. The exhibition features works by 57 Arab artists, who were presented with hand-stitched handmade books by Dongola Editions and invited to use these books to interpret the quarantine. The resulting artist books comprise the exhibition. I liked the idea of contrasting the intimacy and tactility of artists books in The Mailbox Project with the techno-realities of the metaverse in Dr Kholeif’s exhibition.
Turning to our gallery sectors we have a spotlight on the Maghreb curated by Rachida Triki and another on Turkiye curated by gallerist Jade Yeşim Turanlı. Arts journalist Riccarda Mandrini is also curating a special focus for us. The idea behind these curated gallery sections is to enable visitors to do a deeper dive into different artistic scenes or art histories whilst visiting galleries at the fair. Rachida, being a notable academic from Tunisia, has also organised a seminar to accompany the fair programme, focusing on art from the Maghreb.
How is the response to the show from regional galleries/artists? How does the fair help local artists?
We are very much rooted in the regional market, acting as a launch pad for visitors to engage with and discover works by modern and contemporary Arab artists.
Each year, we commission three emerging artists from the UAE to create ambitious new works for the fair as part of Beyond: Emerging Artists.
How has Abu Dhabi Art helped the region’s art scene and enhance interest in art in the region?
As the flagship art event in Abu Dhabi, the yearly fair brings together regional and global arts professionals from curators to artists, gallerists to journalists to museums and so on – and cumulatively and collaboratively, this group of people working together, coming together as a force each year, are transformational.
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